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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: As police department falters, it needs a real leader

A female police officer is allegedly assaulted sexually by a sergeant at a party hosted by a fellow officer who may or may not be in trouble for alleged evidence tampering, depending on who’s telling that part of the tale.

Doesn’t sound like the new-and-improved Spokane Police Department that Mayor David Condon’s been bragging about in all those re-election commercials, huh?

It takes my mind back to those not-too-distant bad old days, when SPD stood more for “scandals, paranoia and deceit.”

Hey, I’d love to believe that our police department has evolved into the Wonderful Land of Oz.

But this is Spokane. Follow a Yellow Brick Road around here and you’ll likely run into some bum relieving himself on the sidewalk.

A depressing number of setbacks makes me wonder if local law enforcement is on another crash-and-burn course.

Police oversight has imploded, hopefully to recover. Dubious personnel moves were made during the reign of Frank Straub, Condon’s seriously flawed, yet handpicked police chief.

We watched the rise and fall of Straub, who lawyered up and wants a $4 million parting gift.

And now one cop says she was sexually assaulted by another cop at a party?

Mayor Condon and other officials have rightly decided that it might be time to audit the Spokane Police Department’s culture.

A few jolts of electroshock Taser therapy may help get us back on track, too.

While they’re working out all the details, I’d really like to see someone conduct a booze audit. As in how much was being consumed at this aforementioned shindig?

And that’s only the beginning of my curiosity.

I’d like to know more about what sort of party Officer Doug Strosahl was hosting.

How out of control did things get?

How many police officers were involved?

And what exactly happened in that guest bedroom?

I know. The whole painful story will come out in drips and drops as the legal process does its thing.

For now, we know that Sgt. Gordon Ennis is under investigation and placed on paid administrative leave.

The victim, according to our news stories, told investigators she passed out after consuming a number of drinks and awoke to find that she was being fondled by Ennis, who had a hand down her pants.

What an absolute nightmare.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who is overseeing the investigation, believes bad cops give a black eye “to every person who wears a badge.”

I’d take that even further, Ozzie.

Bad cops hurt the entire community, too. And that goes double around here.

Spokane residents are desperate to have a police department we can put our trust in.

I called Knezovich on Friday because of his firm views on “2 Percenters.”

That’s the sheriff’s pet name for the small number of screw-up cops who can poison an entire department’s morale as well as a community’s confidence in law enforcement.

That describes Spokane following the 2006 death of Otto Zehm. The innocent shopper died after his criminally violent encounter with a police officer who suspected Zehm of thievery.

I sure don’t want to go back to those cowboy cop days.

As simple as it sounds, Knezovich is dead- on when he says that the key is leadership.

The next full-time Spokane police chief needs to be a winner, not somebody’s friend or fixation.

Winston Churchill is dead, sadly. But there must be someone out there who can inspire the SPD to greatness.

Rank-and-file officers need to know that their “leadership will protect them from the negativity that will drag them on down,” Knezovich said.

“You want transparency, you want integrity, you want it all. It has to be driven from the top and there absolutely can’t be any compromise.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.

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